Tulane Accelerates Discovery with Hybrid Supercomputer

By Tiffany Trader

December 16, 2014

The rich culture and distinctive charm of the city of New Orleans served as the backdrop for this year’s annual Supercomputing Conference (SC14). If you haven’t been before, residents of the Big Easy will urge you to visit the uptown campus of Tulane University. Renowned for its beautiful trees and landscaping, the university is also a prominent research facility with TOP500-level computing prowess.

Just in time for the fall semester, Tulane welcomed a new supercomputer named Cypress. Manufactured by Dell, the system illustrates just how far the city and Tulane have come since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the area in late August 2005.

As Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs of Tulane University Michael Bernstein shares in a video made in partnership with the computer vendor, “Katrina completely reoriented the relationship between the university and the city.”

“It is difficult to describe how close to death Tulane University was and the city of New Orleans was,” adds Laura S. Levy, PhD, Vice President of Research, Tulane University. “Thanks to the vision of our leadership and the hard work of lots of people, Tulane University led the city and rose out of the ashes.”

Charlie McMahon, Vice President of IT and Chief Technology Officer, goes on to describe the project in more detail.

“If we take a look at the state of high-performance computing at Tulane, when Katrina came through, it was essentially nonexistent,” he says. “As Tulane was looking at how to build an architecture, Dell became clearly the leading partner for us to figure this out.

“Dell leveraged their relationship with Intel, who in turn leveraged their relationship with Cloudera. For one of the first times ever in production, we are going to have an environment that takes a high-performance file system, Lustre, layers Hadoop on top of that and allows us to do big data analytics using Hadoop in an HPC environment. That what makes the approach Tulane is taking so unique.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7-9lBvM19c

Cypress’s 124 Dell PowerEdge C8220X servers house 2,480 Intel Xeon E5-2680v2 cores plus more than 15,000 Intel Xeon Phi cores. The combined 17,608 heterogenous cores generate 355 teraflops of theoretical peak computational power and 221 teraflops of LINPACK performance, sufficient for a 271 ranking on the most recent TOP500 list.

Cypress will be used for a wide-range of workloads including sea-level calculations, traumatic brain injury studies, and other data-heavy tasks, such as molecular docking in support of drug discovery. The high-throughput computing environment enables research that was not possible before, says one user, with projects that would have taken months or years reduced to a matter of days.

“This system allows users to move seamlessly between big data analytics and traditional high-performance computing capabilities, enabling research,” McMahon said in a release put out by the school. “We hope to demonstrate to the university that by using this supercomputing capability, our researchers are able to tackle bigger and more complex problems, to publish more papers and win more research grants.”

McMahon adds that Tulane has been contracted by the NFL Players Association to carry out long-term tracking of professional football players for whom traumatic brain injury is an occupational hazard.

Gabriel Feldman, J.D., Tulane University, director of Sports Law, and co-director of Tulane Center for Sport, says Cypress will help Tulane researchers determine the risks in playing sports – not only for football, but all collision or contact sports. The effort seeks to facilitate a safer experience for everyone involved by identifying ways to treat and prevent such injuries.

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